Overworked: Reducing nurse burnout would be a cost-effective way of improving patient care, said researchers
Patients are more likely to suffer hospital infections if the nurses tending them feel over-stretched and close to 'emotional burnout.'
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania compared the number of hospital-acquired infections with the ratio of patients to nurses.
The team analysed data from a 2006 survey of more than 7,000 registered nurses from 161 hospitals in Pennsylvania.
They found that each nurse cared for an average 5.7patients. For each additional patient assigned to a nurse, there was roughly one additional infection per 1,000 patients.
The researchers also looked at the effect of nurse burnout on patient health, using another survey that looked at the levels of emotional exhaustion among staff. More than a third of nurses received a score that meant they were facing burnout.
The researchers found for each 10 per cent increase in nurses facing burnout there was one extra catheter-related infection and two extra surgical site infections per thousand patients each year.
They estimated that if nurse burnout rates could be reduced to 10 per cent from an average of 30 per cent, Pennsylvania hospitals could prevent an estimated 4,160 infections annually with an associated savings of $41million or £26million.
Writing in the American Journal of Infection Control, they said: 'Healthcare facilities can improve nurse staffing and other elements of the care environment and alleviate job-related burnout in nurses at a much lower cost than those associated with healthcare-associated infections,' conclude the authors.
'By reducing nurse burnout, we can improve the well-being of nurses while improving the quality of patient care.'
It follows a recent study from the Royal College of Nursing that revealed three-quarters of nurses in the UK have no time to talk to older hospital patients. Meanwhile one third said they were too rushed to help frail patients to eat and drink.
Typically, one registered nurse is expected to look after nine elderly patients who may be frail, acutely ill and have complex medical needs.
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